Pool Britannia

The atmosphere at the Aquatics Centre is loud and electric. Swimmers from all nations seem to enjoy the rush


The well-publicized worries over London 2012—road and transit chaos, Noah’s ark-worthy rains, the shortage of security guards—have dissipated with the smoke from the fireworks that ended the Opening Ceremony. And now the party is truly underway.

The mood at the Aquatics Centre this morning was electric. Not just for the first of many showdowns between feuding U.S. teammates Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps (the 16-time Olympic medalist barely made tonight’s final in the 400m Individual Medley, while Lochte and his measly six medals and four world records came third). But most especially when anyone wearing the Union Jack touched the water.

The cheers for Hannah Miley, as she powered her way to a first place finish in her heat for the 400m IM and a spot in the final were deafening. Ditto for Craig Benson in the 100m Breastroke. Little matter that he came fourth and didn’t make the cut—the patriotic fervor was unconditional.

The pool is far louder than the ones in Athens or Beijing, by design. Particularly ugly from the outside—you could easily mistake its concrete and metal facade for a parking garage or water treatment plant—it has an even weirder interior, marked by a swooping, wave-like roof that hangs low over the pool, almost completely cutting off the view of the stands on the opposite side. The overhang makes the room feel like a cave, and sound like one, too. The noise doesn’t just reverberate, it wraps around you like a boa constrictor. And when a Briton swims, you’d swear a train is very nearby.

Swimmers from all nations appear to be enjoying the rush. And the Canadians are no exception. In the 400m Freestyle, Ryan Cochrane—our lone medalist in Beijing’s pool—just squeaked into tonight’s finals in eighth spot. “It was a pretty slow start,” he explained. “I think I’ve got another four or five seconds in me.” But the bigger news might be Scott Dickens star turn in the 100m Breastroke. Second in his heat with a time of 59.85, he shattered his own Canadian record, and promises there’s more to come in the semis this evening. “I’m just trying to enjoy myself. I was in the room warming up, thinking, ‘Man, I love my job.'”

And if he keeps doing it that way, he may find the cheers back home just as deafening as the ones in London.



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